Hot summer night, 1980
I am four years old, and frightened. I just woke up, it's pitch black, and something is screaming in my ears really loud. Covering my ears doesn't help. I stumble out of the sweat covered bed, and stumble over to the next room. "Mom, my ears are loud." Mommy gives me half of an aspirin tablet and puts me back to bed. Somehow, after hours of wondering if it will ever stop, if I'm broken, I manage to fall asleep, and eventually the ringing fades away.
That was the worst experience I've had in a lifelong bout with Tinnitus. I've been lucky. Many people who have worse attacks jam objects into their ears, rupturing their eardrums, to try unsuccesfully to stop the sound. Some have been driven to suicide.
Imagine the ringing in your ears you hear after listening to overly loud music for too long, like at a great concert where you're right next to the speakers. Now imagine that much louder. Now imagine that happening for no reason, constantly, and unrelenting.
Tinnitus is a ringing in the ears. It's not directly life threatening, and most cases of it are minor in intensity. Very little research has been done on the subject, despite a few champions such as William Shatner trying to promote awareness of it. The only thing that can currently be done to ease tinnitus is therapy, learning to deal with the constant noise, and trying to adapt to it. Depending on the severity of the case, this can be the challenge of a lifetime.
There are support groups, such as alt.support.tinnitus, which are very helpful to emotional recovery from a sudden onset of tinnitus. But resources are few for a syndrome which affects a surprisingly large portion of the population.